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Free WiFi project for Delhi finally to become reality
New Delhi, Dec 10 - With the tenure of the Arvind Kejriwal government about to end, the Aam Aadmi Party government has announced that it will fulfil its poll promise of giving free WiFi hotspots in the city with inauguration of the first 100 hotspots on December 16.
The party, since it came to power in February 2015, had been saying that the work on the project is underway. However, the city had been waiting for the free internet.
Now, with the Kejriwal government about to complete its tenure, they announced that the city will get about 11,000 hotspots in the next six months.
One of the AAP's flagship project, the WiFi installation had missed a number of deadlines set by the government.
Now, for providing free internet to the city by installing 11,000 WiFi hotspots across the national capital, the government has set September 2020 as the new deadline.
In its 2015 manifesto, the AAP had promised to make WiFi freely available in public spaces across Delhi.
"Citywide WiFi can help in bridging the digital divide. It will also provide an impetus to education, entrepreneurship, business, employment, and also tie in with women's safety initiatives," the manifesto reads.
The party, which was also in power for 49 days in 2013-14, said in the 2015 manifesto that the internet and telecom companies have been approached and a high-level feasibility study has been done in consultation with them. The AAP came back to power with a landslide victory in February 2015.
While presenting the Budget for 2015-16, Delhi Finance Minister Manish Sisodia had termed WiFi as a major initiative in making Delhi a technologically-advanced city.
There was no mention of the WiFi project in the Budgets for 2017-18 and 2018-19, however, in the Outcome Budget for 2017-18, the government said the Information Technology Department is in process of issuing the request for proposals (RFP) for feasibility study and had set March 2018 as the expected date for commissioning of WiFi hotspots at pilot stage. However, the deadline was missed.
Again in the Outcome Budget 2018-19, while the government said the expected date for issue of the RFP was June 2018, it said March 2019 was the target for the launch of the pilot project. It was also mentioned that the work entrusted to PWD from the IT Department.
The Outcome Budget 2018-19 said that in March 2018, the PWD intimated that "PWD shall not be able to execute this work due to non-availability of sufficient staff and no expertise in this field."
In the current Budget for 2019-20, Sisodia said after studying various models, "we are prepared to start this service for the residents of Delhi next year" and kept Rs 150 crore for the WiFi project.
With Kejriwal making the announcement on December 4 about the project, the opposition Congress and BJP blamed the government for sleeping for the entire tenure and only starting the project as its term comes to an end to fool the people.
Kejriwal, however, rejected that they recalled the project as the elections were approaching.
"We started working on it soon after coming to power in 2015. We even started the project on a pilot basis. We have ensured that the cost of the project is not too much. The earlier models were not so feasible."
The government had started the pilot of the project in March 2016 for three months at Sant Nagar market in Burari. The users were allowed to download 50 MB of data per day free of cost.
However, in 2016 and 2017, the AAP government tried different technical, financial and organizational models.
"This was done with the intention to structure the best quality Wi-Fi to consumers and at the least cost to the exchequer," Kejriwal said.
The tenure of the AAP government ends in February, 2020.
(Nivedita Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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